Home / Bush Still Dragging GOP Down As November Elections Near: But It’s Still A Tossup

Bush Still Dragging GOP Down As November Elections Near: But It’s Still A Tossup

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Although Republicans aren't ready to throw in the towel, and Democrats aren’t doing the Snoopy Happy Dance of victory, the news for the GOP continues to be, well, bad. In an August 18 article, Washington Post reporter Jim VandeHei penned a front-page piece, “Republicans Losing ‘The Security Moms.’” A trusted base of GOP victories in 2002 and 2004, these married women with children “are taking flight from GOP politicians this year” and turning to the Democrats.

And, after a brief surge in popularity earlier this year, President Bush’s approval among Americans has sunk well into the 30% range—which many political pundits say spell real problems for the GOP this November.  And, after months of rumors that Republicans were distancing themselves from the president, it’s becoming less of a rumor and more of a trend. According to an earlier Washington Post story, incumbents in the Northeast are particularly worried.

To add insult to injury, the number of voters in the so-called generic ballot ("If the election for U.S. House of Representatives was held today, would you vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate in your congressional district?”) shows a dramatic upsurge in support for Democrats.

Security Moms

A Pew Research Center poll has found that these women are more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate than any time since 9/11. They’re not enthusiastic about how well the Democrats can protect them, but Republicans aren’t benefiting from this as they have in the past, in part because the security moms fear that the Republicans will involve the U.S. in too many overseas battles.

The security issue is the ace-in-the-hole Karl Rove expected to play. Ben Barnes, Democratic consultant said in an interview that it’s the same one that worked for them in 2000 and 2004. “I think Dick Cheney summed it up very well in ’04 when he got on television and said, ‘If John Kerry is elected president, we’ll have another serious attack within the first year.’ That’s unbelievable demagoguery, but it’s still worked. It started in 2002 when they beat Max Clelland [Vietman veteran and triple amputee] and they got the veterans to endorse Chambliss against him…which is kind of unheard of.”

And frustration with Bush, rising gas prices, and economic anxiety are just as powerful in shaping how these voters will act on election day. They support Democrats for Congress by a 12-point margin, similar to the national ratings, but in 2002, that 12-point margin favored the Republicans.

Pew chief Andrew Kohut said the "’negative impact of Iraq is hurting not only Bush but also the Republican Party as well.’ No longer, Kohut said, is ‘terrorism alone enough to keep’” traditional Republicans in the party’s fold.

Bush Approval Dropping

Six polls taken within the last week have the president’s approval rating from 33% to 38%. Even after the London terrorist raid, CBS had Bush at 36%, Stale Gallup at 37%, and Zogby at 34%.

Image and video hosting by TinyPicDr. Charles Franklin, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin, said in an interview, “We know from the past that presidential approval does predict mid-term election outcomes,” although he’s not ready to predict a Democratic takeover of the House or Senate.

Part of the challenge for Bush is that Americans are less confident that we’re winning the war on terror. According to the Rasmussen Reports, only 39% of Americans are optimistic, a five-point drop in one month. In 2004, half the electorate thought we were winning. Conversely, those who think the terrorists are winning has jumped seven points in one month from 26 to 33%.

“Collectively, these numbers document one of the most pessimistic evaluations of the conflict we’ve found in the past two-and-a-half years,” Rassmussen writes 

Image and video hosting by TinyPicTo make matters worse for the president, he is being assailed from all sides. Conservatives think he’s not conservative enough, and Pew has found that even moderate and liberal Republicans don’t approve of the job he’s doing.

Franklin, on his blog, Political Arithmetik, has noted that when a presidents rating falls into the 30% range, it’s usually “disastrous” for his party at the polls.

Republicans Doing the Old Two-Step with the President

Many Republicans are torn between the president’s ability to raise money for them and fear of being tainted by Bush’s low appeal. Jim Gerlach (R. PA) has said that the people in his suburban Philadelphia district are in a “sour mood.” The two-term Congressman is anxious to show his independence from the president to the point that his statement, "'When I think he's wrong, I let him know'" has become “a virtual campaign slogan, repeated in interviews and TV ads.”

According to the Post, Bush’s sinking approval is creating problems for Republicans across the country, but it’s most serious in the Northeast, where a Post-ABC News poll found Bush’s approval rating at 28% in that region with the Republican Congress in about the same straights. What’s giving Republicans concern is that the region is becoming more Democratic, which could make it hard for the GOP to recover seats lost in November. New York Republican State Senator Raymond Meier, running for an open seat, Reps. Rob Simmons (R-CT), Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Curt Weldon (R-PA), Nancy Johnson (R-CT), and Christopher Shays (R-CT) are all in the fights of their political lives.

Republican concerns about the lack of coattails extend beyond the Northeast. Two key Bush supporters, U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy (Minnesota) and Sen. James M. Talent (Missouri,) who in the past have aired advertisements with him and have stumped with him at public rallies are both running for Senate seats. But Bush is nowhere to be seen in their ads. “A recent ad from Kennedy says, "’He doesn't do what the party says to.’"

One has to wonder when the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, of Buffalo, New York, runs ads that fail to mention he’s a Republican. “Endangered candidates are presenting themselves as independent-minded problem solvers who are not part of Washington's partisan wars.”

The Ever Enigmatic Generic Ballot

Franklin on Political Arithmetik calls the generic ballot “a blunt instrument.” There’s no mention of candidate by name, who the incumbent is, and the power of partisanship rather than issues when people go into a voting booth. He also warns that Democrats tend to better on the generic ballot than they do in the polls. Nonetheless, it’s a closely watched indicator, and Franklin acknowledged, “That lead is far bigger than anything since 94. It sure looks a lot better for Democrats than the previous few rounds; you would believe therefore that if Democrats were within 15 seats before this, with that big of a lead, you’d think they’d do well.”

Jay Cost, at Real Clear Politics is even less confident that the generic ballot has value. In fact, he argues that, based on his statistical analyses, the greater the skew towards Democrats, the less sure one can be of its predictive value.

One statistic that has to give the Republicans pause is when asked about their own Member of Congress, people are giving them a 55% approval rating—the lowest since the eve of the 1994 election. 

Franklin says that one of the best predictors is Bush approval ratings…which don’t bode well for the Republicans.

So What Does It All Mean?

Cost says this November’s race is going to be a “squeaker.”

Bob Benenson, editor of Congressional Quarterly Politics and his staff have issued their latest take on the November elections. While they see reasons for Democratic optimism, there are still to many variables to declare a victor on election day. They agree that the Republicans are especially vulnerable in the Midwest and Northeast but add that their traditional strongholds in the South and West are showing strains as well.

“The only thing the GOP appears to have going for it right now is the fact that most voters have yet to tune in to the details of their upcoming electoral choices. So if the Republicans can just keep their heads down, they might avert a fatal storm,” writes Benenson. The experts with whom CQ talked all said that November could turn into a major upset for the Republicans.

But everyone is being cautious because too much is happening too quickly: The testimony of U.S. Generals about civil war in Iraq, the Israel-Hezbollah war, the failure of Congress to pass any meaningful legislation regarding minimum wage or tax cuts, and Ohio Republican Bob Ney’s decision to quit under suspicion of corruption…to name but a few.

CQ says that the Republicans are currently on course to win 220 House seats, just two more than a majority, but the degree of vulnerability in even some of their “safe” seats makes that just a best guess. In the Senate, the Democrats are going to have a harder time taking control, but it’s still well within the realm of the possible.

One factor CQ sites that has been written about elsewhere is that the Republicans seem better organized on the ground, which, in mid-term elections, is a significant advantage. At the same time, it appears that the Democrats, recognizing the edge, have been going on the offensive and strengthening their local party organizations.

As Ben Barnes said, “I’ve been a Democrat for four decades, and the party is always divided and doesn’t have good party discipline. They never get their act together until the last minute. But we’ve been successful.”

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About Mark Schannon

Retired crisis & risk manager/communications expert; extensive public relations experience in most areas over 30 years. Still available for extraordinary opportunities of mind-numbing complexity. Life-long liberal agnostic...or is that agnostic liberal.
  • nice analysis Mark!

    thanks fer giving us the numbers and sources to look over for ourselves, a MUCH better approach than the usual cherry picking that gets done when reporting this kind of thing

    it’s still WAY too early to tell anything, but we have passed the first two big hurdles… the Memorial day/4th of July weekends…

    those showed increasing losses in the numbers for the GOP

    the last big one will be what folks are talking about when they gather on Labor Day

    if these trends continue, or even just flatten out, then it looks like the House will shift and it will be way close in the Senate

    imo, as long as the Dems win either House or Senate then the Republic is well served by the restoration of checks and balances

    and factors indicate more and more Americans are thinking the same thing

    we can only Hope


  • Thank you, Sir Gonzo. There’s so much stuff out there, it’s amazing. This really is going to be a fascinating election. I do think the Dems can pull off the House if they get organized at the local level. The senate’s harder but that would be amazing.

    In Jameson Veritas

  • Even the most generous analysts show the dems gaining a maximum of 12 house seats, so I don’t see how you think they can get control of the house. The senate is actually closer to being possible, especially if Lieberman gets elected and chooses to caucus with the dems.


  • Even the most generous analysts show the dems gaining a maximum of 12 house seats, so I don’t see how you think they can get control of the house. The senate is actually closer to being possible, especially if Lieberman gets elected and chooses to caucus with the dems.


  • G. Chell

    “Even the most generous analysts show the dems gaining a maximum of 12 house seats, so I don’t see how you think they can get control of the house.”


  • Dave, no one I’ve taked to is willing to limit the Dems to 12 seats. I’ll be talking to a pollster next week who is predicting that the Dems could take as many as 25 seats…which blew my mind. But he’s a good friend of Franklin from U of W. I don’t know where you’re getting 12, though. Things are still to fluid.

    In Jameson Veritas

  • Odd, all of the polls listed on pollingreport.com come out way lower than that. I was wrong about the 12 figure, though. Two polls earlier this month (FOX and Ipsos) led to conclusions as high as 18, which are the highest numbers for the Dems in the past year.


  • Chell, I think you may have misread the Cook report. It clearly shows a total of 12 toss-up seats and 25 leaning seats. Even if all of the toss-ups went Democrat and the GOP lost a third of the seats currently ‘leaning’ their way we’d be talking about only a 17 seat switch, and that’s being very generous to the Dems. If just the toss-ups went all Dem they wouldn’t win the house. If the toss-ups and the leaners all split evenly they wouldn’t win the house. Though they would gain seats in both scenarios.


  • ummm.. one third of 25 is about 8

    8 plus 12 equals 20 not 17

    15 are needed

    just helping Dave with his math


  • G. Chell

    I did not misread cook. Read his analysis.

  • Gonzo, it’s 8 plus 10, not 8 plus 12, but I was off by one.

    As for the Cook analysis, I can’t access it because their membership system appears to be incompatible with Safari.


  • ummm..Dave sez…
    *Even if all of the toss-ups went Democrat and the GOP lost a third of the seats currently ‘leaning’ their way we’d be talking about only a 17 seat switch,*

    all toss up seats means 12, by your own words…

    one third of 25 is 8 and a fraction…

    so….20, for your hypothetical when you say…
    *Even if all of the toss-ups went Democrat and the GOP lost a third of the seats currently ‘leaning’ their way we’d be talking about only a 17 seat switch,*

    it ain’t rocket science… hell, it ain’t even 3rd grade Iowa test word problem…

    just trying ta help


  • Yes, Gonzo, but some of the toss-up seats are already Democrats, so they don’t add anything.


  • hey.. i didn’t say shit about the accuracy of the analysis or the word problem itself

    i was just doing the math

    glad ta help…



  • pleasexcusetheinterruption12

    Great info Mark.

    Well after looking at these numbers it looks pretty close to me, but I have to wonder if the current trend against Bush and towards the dems is going to continue. Bush has had some decent press in recent months amid the near constant stream of bad news from Iraq, and it doesnt seem to do much for his approval rating.

    Looking to the future it seems to me there are plenty of ways for more things to go wrong for Bush and the GOP, but not many opportunities for success. I just have this sense that this trend is going to continue until something big happens to relieve the pressure off of Bush (either a dem takeover, major dem messup, or Bush impeachment come to mind).

  • Thanks PETI. Things are “trending” away from the GOP, but CQ Politicis & Franklin at Wisconsin say if the election were held today, the GOP would win both houses. But given how volitile everything is and how crazy people are (I hate George Allen, but that comment could cost him the race here in VA! and that’s truly absurd) I don’t think anyone has any idea.

    I’ll be talking to that pollster who claims a 25 seat Dem win next week, but I don’t know if he’s going to let me publish it yet, since he’s writing up his findings, but Franklin says he’s one of the best. So who knows? The Shadow.

    In Decaf Veritas

  • Bliffle

    What a turnaround! A couple years ago the GOP looked unbeatable, but now they lose ground every day. And they did it to themselves, since the democrats have done nothing to endear themselves to voters.

  • David Ferrell

    Keith Mitchell in the 163rd has NO POLITICAL EXPERIENCE. He is the LEADING DRUG DEALER around though, BOTH LEGAL and ILLEGAL!!!!

  • Bliffle,

    Yeah, it’s ironic. If the Dems win anything, we’ll have to thank the GOP! LOL

    In Jameson Veritas

  • Nancy

    The Old Fart who’s always voted GOP & I are in the same spot: both of us depise our current party leaders but can’t stomach voting for the other fella. What to do, what to do…?

  • Nancy, do what every sensible voter should do and vote for the candidates, not the party. If you do that and keep doing it and if everyone else does it too, eventually the parties will come to match your expectations.


  • Nancy, who’s the Old Fart?

    Dave, with all due respect, (Bronx cheer)…vote for what candiates? I’d vote for a Lithuanian if I thought he or she had the brains of the scarecrow.

    It’s not a party matter…it’s that the system is designed to keep good people from running for office.

    In Decaf Veritas

  • Despite the admittedly fucked up system, there ARE good candidates out there. You may not have the opportunity to vote for them in your particular district, but some of us will be offered a few good choices in the 2006 and 2008 elections.

    I’d have no problem voting for a Barney Frank or a Arlen Specter or a Rudy Giuliani if given the opportunity, and they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Plus, even picking the lesser of two evils is better than nothing.


  • just what i’ve always said…

    there may or may not be someone around to vote FOR…

    but there’s ALWAYS someone to vote AGAINST!

    just a Thought…


  • Oh for an election when we have Stephen Douglas and Abe Lincoln to pick from or John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Hell, I’d even settle for John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. But try to find choices that good in the 20th century.


  • Clavos

    Much less in the twenty first century. :>)

  • pleasexcusetheinteruption12

    FDR anyone? Teddy? Wilson?

  • Bush says Iraq will fall into chaos if we leave…isn’t it already?

  • FDR anyone? Teddy? Wilson?

    All interesting choices, including the best and the worst presidents of the 20th century. But none of them ran against anyone where you’d have an embarassment of riches. And I include in that the election when Teddy ran against Wilson and Taft, since IMO Teddy was the only worthwhile candidate in that race.


  • Dean

    “There were doors all round the hall, but they were all locked; and when Alice had been all the way down one side and up the other, trying every door, she walked sadly down the middle, wondering how she was ever to get out again.”

    — Alice in Wonderland

    There were doors all round the hall, but they were all locked; and when [Bush] had been all the way down one side and up the other, trying every door, [he] walked sadly down the middle, wondering how [he] was ever to get out again.

    — Bush in the Middle East

  • If Iraq is in chaos, what word do we use to describe the good ol’ US of A?

    Re your earlier call, Dave, I like Frank but don’t think he’d make a good president; Rudy scares me because he’s an ego-maniac. Don’t know Specter well enough, but enough to think him a reasonable option. Read an interview with Hagel and was surprised–seemed reasonable even in areas where we disagree.

    I do like Mark Warner–have met him a few times, and he did a good job in VA given that you’re only allowed one 4-year term.

    But his chances are slim to nil.

    In Decaf Veritas

  • I believe the word is screwed.

  • Mark, Good thoughts,
    This is the first time that I can’t just spout off who I’m for, or against.
    In the past two years the Democrats have become the whiniest lot of babies I’ve ever seen.
    In the 2004 election I couldn’t stomach Kerry but I considered W to be so dangerous I felt that I had to vote Dem so as not to take a chance on Bush getting the seat. So, what happens? I give him my vote specifically to get Bush out and he lays down a month before the election, just stops campaigning. I still can’t figure what that was about but all I know is that it is his (Dems) fault we have this ‘Jethro Bodine’ character for a leader(?).

    The last thing I want in midterms is to take a chance voting Democrat and winding up with any of these ‘one’ issue candidates. There are a lot more things to be concerned with than any one issue and I can’t hear anyone who has more than one of abortion, warming, or safety to speak of.
    I think we have become safe to a comical stage, when will we begin anal searches or trans uterine cameras to be used before we have gone over the edge. We have other issues!

    If I vote Republican, well, I have only one letter to say about that;’W’. Can’t possibly take a chance on giving him any more strength and to the dismay , I’m sure, of the Rep’s unless a candidate want’s to totally distance himself , say by calling for impeachment, I think they’ll have to work awfully hard to get a seat.

    Sure is confusing. It has nothing to do with party, but for me and many others it has everything to do with Bush.